Dirty Lines follows the usual rags to riches to rags again structure of similar shows, but it’s well put-together and balanced enough to be entertaining for its duration.
This review of Dirty Lines Season 1 is spoiler-free.
Sex sells, and there’s no bigger market for it than the one that Netflix provides. That’s how things seem, anyway, since Dirty Lines, a six-part Dutch original dramatizing an ostensibly true story about the world’s first erotic phone line, isn’t even the first series on the platform about pioneering sexual entrepreneurship. This show even possesses the raunchy attitude of something like The Naked Director — be careful watching this while the kids are around, even if they can’t see the screen. That’s the point, though. Sex is so easy to sell that you can charge by the minute for it over the phone.
Dirty Lines is about sex, then, both the real, physical kind and the simulated, aural — you know what I mean! — kind, but it’s really about how people relate to and think about sex, on multiple levels, and from multiple perspectives. On the one hand, it’s deeply involved in the actual business of Teledutch, the (fictional) company that made brothers Frank (Minne Koole) and Ramon (Chris Peters) rich by providing a new kind of anonymous, accessible smut. But on the other hand, it’s also about how a psychology student like Marly (Joy Delima) can become embroiled in such a company, first as a way to make ends meet and then as a kind of experiment to help with her thesis.
Many other people — friends, relatives, spouses — are roped into the affairs of Teledutch, but across six episodes, each running a little over 40 minutes, Dirty Lines splits focus mostly between Marly and the brothers, showing two sides to the operation while unpacking, sometimes quite clunkily, the appeal and popularity of such a service from a psychological perspective. It’s a nice angle to take, even if it does excuse some formal flourishes, including a couple of outright fourth wall breaks, that some might consider a bit try-hard. None of Dirty Lines‘s stylistic quirks really add much to it, and beyond them, it proceeds along a fairly predictable rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again framework.
It has some things going for it, though. It’s snappily written, sometimes pretty funny, and the cast are game. It easily sustains interest throughout its entire runtime, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and wraps things up in a satisfying way. The 80s setting also provides a lot of fruitful sociopolitical backdropping, with the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, burgeoning technology, the proliferation of ecstasy and house music, and the AIDs epidemic all factoring into the story in relevant and logical ways.
With the fifth season of Elite working, weirdly, on much the same level as this show, there’s a decent chance that viewers will go there for their share of soapy sexuality this weekend. But Dirty Lines is a solid alternate option with much more grounding in recognizable real-world reality. Hopefully, it finds an audience that appreciates the kind of story it’s trying to tell, even if it doesn’t tell it in a way they haven’t seen before.